Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Where Do We Turn to Obtain Accurate Facts about Six Nations of the Grand River History and Culture?

I am guessing that the above question would bring forth a variety of answers - but my focus is on reliable and accurate information, data that will not be shown to be wrong based on other sources - although differences of opinion may exist.  If one takes statements at face value, then the representatives of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) would assert that one only need enquire of ones Clan Mother and representative Chief to obtain the requisite information.  In a previous blog I showed how impossible this would be for most at Six Nations, plus the fact that even 100 years ago there were serious errors entered into the collective memory such that what one might obtain today from those who are supposed to be in the know (e.g., the Hereditary Council at Six Nations), is basically an unknown entity.  I would venture to say that there will be no one alive today who could correctly recite all of the warriors and women's names belonging to a particular Nation, Clan, and Ohwachira. 

Something as basic as the date of the founding of the Confederacy (the League of the Five Nations Iroquois) by the Huron / Wyandot Deganawida and the Mohawk Ayenwagtha, is a matter of much debate.  Depending on who one asked, at what time period the question was posed, and to what tribe the informant belonged, there are at least 10 competing versions.  The most persuasive arguments are for a date between the arrival of the Dutch in 1609 back about 150 years.  It is destined to remain an elusive "fact" that will at best be shrouded in the mists of time and remain bookended within a "reasonable" time frame.  One might decide to use the appearance of wampum as a benchmark.  The archaeological record would then delimit the earliest possible date to the 16th Century.  Fortunately, there are other aspects of Six Nations chronology which are much easier to pinpoint.

In 1885, when Seth Newhouse wrote his well - researched study of the traditions of the Six Nations, things, by his admission, had begun to fall apart and he was not entirely sure of some of what his informants gave him (it was sometimes contradicted by other informants).  It appears that what with the cataclysmic upheavals since that time, the problem has deteriorated to the point that if one seeks consistency (a hallmark of the truth), then it will be necessary to turn to those most knowledgeable, those informants deemed to be the most reliable, and whose version can be cross validated with other sources to locate facts that one can "take to the bank". 

For present purposes, I will parse the body of knowledge into two broad categories.

A)  Studies on the archaeology, socio-political history, rituals and related matter relevant to the League of the Iroquois (Five, later Six Nations):

Many historians and anthropologists had the foresight to record for all posterity the recollections of the most trusted Six Nations people.  In the political climate of today, with rampant factionalism in every nook and cranny of Six Nations society, one is not going to find consensus - except by reference to the works published by White authors based on the Six Nations informants who were universally seen as having a trustworthy memory of what the most respected elders had told them.  After the passing of Chief Elliott Moses in the 1960s, an entire era has forever gone, leaving us today without those who at one time all would have agreed, these were elders revered for their knowledge of the oral traditions and history or Six Nations people.  Alas, these days, there does not seem to be a cadre of individuals to whom one could approach for knowledge on most subjects which were well known to those residing here 100 years ago.  These days at the Longhouses "down below", one constantly hears, for example after a fruitless search for someone to recite from memory part of the Great Law, that "we are going downhill" - or words to that effect.  Reasons cited include the lack of any real commitment by the youth of today in applying themselves to learn for example the particulars of the components of the dances used at the spring Strawberry festival.

So there seems to be little choice but to refer to the written texts that for example recorded details of the calendar ceremonies at the times anthropologists visited the Reserve up to the 1960s - after which time there seems to have been little further work done by the White academics visiting Six Nations.  Most of what is available has been published, with the notable exception of the work of Goldenweiser whose cribbed and coded notes have been deposited in the Museum of Civilization at Hull Quebec.

What follows is a list of some of the key authors of published or unpublished work that can be consulted to this day, and whose efforts have born fruit which can largely be relied upon to provide information that when combined with the second source below, offers as close as one can come to a comprehensive and factually correct version of Six Nations society and history.  The focus here is on the "classic" studies to the 1960s.  They are listed in no particular order, simply as they come to mind:

1)  Seth Newhouse (Mohawk)
2)  John A. Gibson (Seneca)
3)  Elliott Moses (Delaware)
4)  John Buck (Onondaga)
5)  Edward M. Chadwick
6)  Charles M. Johnston
7)  John Norton (Cherokee, adopted Mohawk)
8)  John A. Noon
9)  Marianne Shimony
10)  Sally Weaver
11)  Elizabeth Tooker
12)  William N. Fenton
13)  Frank G. Speck
14)  A. A. Goldenweiser
15)  Horatio Hale
16)  J. N. B. Hewitt (Tuscarora)
17)  William M. Beauchamp
18)  Arthur C. Parker (Seneca)
19)  Lewis H. Morgan
20)  Lyman Draper
21)  Duncan C. Scott

If put in a forced choice situation, where I could have one and only one book or other trustworthy resource that would cover as many bases as possible, my choice would be the 924 page volume of the Smithsonian Institute which discusses in detail, the scholarly work of most of the above authors.  Specifically, William C. Sturtevant (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, "Northeast", Washington D.C., Smithsonian, 1978.  Not only are the studies of the above authors relating to the Six Nations included, but also there are chapters on other members of the Six Nations Community, for example the Nanticoke and the Delaware.  If for example one is curious about the percentage of the Reserve Community who adhere to the Longhouse faith, this question has been explored by Shimony and Weaver.  In Weaver's 1978 article, noted elsewhere in this blog, she reported that at the time of the removal to the consolidated Reserve in 1847, the Longhouse group outnumbered all others.  However since about 1865, the number of Christian and Longhouse adherents have remained fairly stable at between about 19% to 24% over a 100 year period to 1974 (see p. 530 in the above book).

B)  Archival documentation pertaining to the Six Nations Reserve and current issues:

The second source for factual material is the original contemporary documentation (e.g., letters from Six Nations Chiefs and elders to the Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs), which for example include the observations and perspectives of men such as John "Smoke" Johnson, a revered Mohawk elder whose family played such a key role in Six Nations life in the 19th Century.  Another example of many would be the Reverend Abraham Nelles, the Church of England Minister at the Mohawk Chapel whose letters express the concern felt for the people at Six Nations.  He had grown up with them, and was sympathetic to the abuses which he knew from direct experience with his parishioners and others who resided along the Grand River. 

The real treasure trove for all of the available documentary material is the Archives of Ontario (now at York University, Toronto), the National Library and Archives (in Ottawa), and a few other repositories such as the Museum of Civilisation in Hull, Quebec.  In addition, there is a wealth of material (e.g., the records of Chief Elliott Moses) in the files at the library of the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.

The judicious use of the above archival sources will provide the only way to address contentious topics such as the various land surrenders by the Six Nations to 1850 or so.  While some records may be missing (for reasons discussed elsewhere in this blog), answers to all of the most pressing questions can be found here - but much is unindexed and it is a long slog to find everything needed to "prove a point".  Still, this is absolutely the only way to dispense with beliefs by any party, and ferret out the facts to arrive at the truth of the matter.

Using these records is not for the faint of heart, they require months to years of study if one is to make any headway.  As a consequence, few have ventured into this realm.

If once again, required to chose only one book that would address the above subject matter best, there is no contest, it would be, Charles M. Johnston, The Valley of the Six Nations:  A Collection of Documents on the Indian Lands of the Grand River, Toronto, The Champlain Society, 1964.

With judicious use of the above materials, it will be possible to put beliefs to one side (and abandon them if necessary) to allow the facts to emerge and have any apparent inconsistencies resolved by a careful weighing of the sum total of the data.  My only complaint about Johnston's work is that he made a couple of omissions, which unfortunately, due to the contentious nature of both, may leave those who have not done their own research, with the impression that much of what one hears at Six Nations and is believed by many or most, could or must be true.  The two omissions are:

a)  The Nanfan Treaty of 1701 which is cited as proof that Six Nations (then Five Nations) have the right to hunt and fish across what is today all of Southern Ontario.  The HDI take the extreme position that any development (e.g., construction of power grids) within this vast domain can only take place after consultation with the representatives of the Hereditary Council (i.e., the HDI).  However, there is an immutable principal at work here.  One cannot assign, give away or sell that which does not legally or in any other way belong to them.  The area deeded to the Crown in 1701 in fact belonged at that time to the Mississauga by right of conquest - they having dispersed all of the 8 settlements of Six Nations north of Lake Ontario.  All of the Six Nations were driven back to what is today Upstate New York by Mississauga warriors and their allies by 1696.  So the deal was established upon a false premise.

b)  While Johnston provides excellent coverage of the various papers and records relating to land dealings within the Grand River Tract by the Six Nations Chiefs in Council, he only takes the matter to the Surrender of 1841.  In fact, the Chiefs in Council executed a number of other Surrenders and these documents, as well as the related Council Minutes, are in the National Archives, but we are left hanging 10 years too soon.  Between 1842 and 1850 the Chiefs in Council had signed Surrenders to all of the Grand River, Haldimand Tract, lands except those which today comprise the consolidated Six Nations Reserve 40; and in the related Council Minutes are recorded their discussions which led to the decision to surrender all other lands to the Crown for sale with the monies from such transactions being applied to their general annuities. 

There is still a pervasive belief at Six Nations that not only do the lands such as the Burch Tract, and the Plank Road lands (including the Douglas Creek Estates - Kanonhstaton) belong to them, but some contend that all of the Grand River Tract was not properly surrendered and is still Six Nations territory.  The facts say otherwise.  In other words the "reclamation" of DCE as Kanonhstaton was illegal, violently usurping the established Land Registry system of Ontario based on false information as to "ownership".  Taking it the next step, if justice is to be served, compensation is due from Six Nations for the many millions of dollars that these actions cost the taxpayers of Canada, and for the inexcusable suffering of those individuals whose only "crime" was to happen to live near the contentious site.


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